color theory


  • The split-primary palette, also called color-bias theory, is a color-wheel model that attempts to explain, and to compensate for, the unsatisfactory results sometimes produced
    when mixing the traditional primary colors, red, yellow, and blue.

  • [3] Another issue has been the tendency to describe color effects holistically or categorically, for example as a contrast between “yellow” and “blue” conceived as generic
    colors, when most color effects are due to contrasts on three relative attributes which define all colors: 1.

  • In order to obtain vivid mixed colors, according to split-primary theory, it is necessary to employ the primary colors whose biases both fall in the direction, on the color
    wheel, of the color to be mixed, combining, for example, green-biased blue with green-biased yellow to make bright green.

  • One reason the artist’s primary colors work at all is due to the imperfect pigments being used have sloped absorption curves and change color with concentration.

  • Color combination guidelines (or formulas) suggest that colors next to each other on the color wheel model (analogous colors) tend to produce a single-hued or monochromatic
    color experience and some theorists also refer to these as “simple harmonies”.

  • Any three real “primary” colors of light, paint or ink can mix only a limited range of colors, called a gamut, which is always smaller (contains fewer colors) than the full
    range of colors humans can perceive.

  • [citation needed] Many historical “color theorists” have assumed that three “pure” primary colors can mix into all possible colors, and any failure of specific paints or inks
    to match this ideal performance is due to the impurity or imperfection of the colorants.

  • [4] Historical background Color theory was originally formulated in terms of three “primary” or “primitive” colors—red, yellow and blue (RYB)—because these colors were believed
    capable of mixing all other colors.

  • Page from 1826 A New Practical Treatise on the Three Primitive Colours Assumed as a Perfect System of Rudimentary Information by Charles Hayter Subsequently, German and English
    scientists established in the late 19th century that color perception is best described in terms of a different set of primary colors—red, green and blue-violet (RGB)—modeled through the additive mixture of three monochromatic lights.

  • Traditional color theory Complementary colors[edit] Chevreul’s 1855 “chromatic diagram” based on the RYB color model, showing complementary colors and other relationships
    Main article: Complementary colors For the mixing of colored light, Isaac Newton’s color wheel is often used to describe complementary colors, which are colors that cancel each other’s hue to produce an achromatic (white, gray or black) light

  • [12] In addition, split complementary color schemes usually depict a modified complementary pair, with instead of the “true” second color being chosen, a range of analogous
    hues around it are chosen, i.e.

  • The organization of colors in a particular color model depends on the purpose of that model: some models show relationships based on human color perception, whereas others
    are based on the color mixing properties of a particular medium such as a computer display or set of paints.

  • However, when complementary colors are chosen based on the definition by light mixture, they are not the same as the artists’ primary colors.

  • From their incorrect premises, proponents of split-primary theory conclude that extra colors are needed in order to mix a wide gamut of high-chroma colors, an idea belied
    by the longtime success of three-color photographic printing.

  • On this basis the quantitative description of the color mixture or colorimetry developed in the early 20th century, along with a series of increasingly sophisticated models
    of color space and color perception, such as the opponent process theory.

  • These contrasts form the basis of Chevreul’s law of color contrast: colors that appear together will be altered as if mixed with the complementary color of the other color.

  • Subtractive and additive Color abstractions The foundations of pre-20th-century color theory were built around “pure” or ideal colors, characterized by different sensory experiences
    rather than attributes of the physical world.

  • In color theory, neutral colors are easily modified by adjacent more saturated colors, and they appear to take on the hue complementary to the saturated color; e.g., next
    to a bright red couch, a gray wall will appear distinctly greenish, this is a property of human vision.

  • Current status Color theory has not developed an explicit explanation of how specific media affect color appearance: colors have always been defined in the abstract, and whether
    the colors were inks or paints, oils or watercolors, transparencies or reflecting prints, computer displays or movie theaters, was not considered especially relevant.

  • Although no set of three primaries can be mixed to obtain the complete color gamut perceived by humans, red, yellow, and blue are a poor choice if high chroma mixtures are

  • This system is still popular among contemporary painters,[citation needed] as it is basically a simplified version of Newton’s geometrical rule that colors closer together
    on the hue circle will produce more vibrant mixtures.

  • These theories were enhanced by 18th-century investigations of a variety of purely psychological color effects, in particular the contrast between “complementary” or opposing
    hues that are produced by color afterimages and in the contrasting shadows in colored light.

  • Hence, our responses to color and the notion of color harmony is open to the influence of a range of different factors.

  • Black and white have long been known to combine “well” with almost any other colors; black decreases the apparent saturation or brightness of colors paired with it and white
    shows off all hues to equal effect.

  • Rather than adopting a more satisfactory set of primary colors, proponents of split-primary theory explain this lack of chroma by the purported presence of chemical impurities,
    small amounts of other colors, in the paints, or biases away from the ideal primary toward one or the other of the adjacent colors.

  • Color wheel models have often been used as a basis for color combination principles or guidelines and for defining relationships between colors.

  • Since only one hue is used, the color and its variations are guaranteed to work.

  • [16] It is important to note that while color symbolism and color associations exist, their existence does not provide evidential support for color psychology or claims that
    color has therapeutic properties.

  • Another practice when darkening a color is to use its opposite, or complementary, color (e.g.

  • [5] Goethe’s color wheel from his 1810 Theory of Colours The RYB primary colors became the foundation of 18th-century theories of color vision,[citation needed] as the fundamental
    sensory qualities that are blended in the perception of all physical colors, and conversely, in the physical mixture of pigments or dyes.

  • [15] However, connotative color associations and color symbolism tends to be culture-bound and may also vary across different contexts and circumstances.

  • It is important to add that the CMYK, or process, color printing is meant as an economical way of producing a wide range of colors for printing, but is deficient in reproducing
    certain colors, notably orange and slightly deficient in reproducing purples.

  • When lightening a color this hue shift can be corrected with the addition of a small amount of an adjacent color to bring the hue of the mixture back in line with the parent
    color (e.g.

  • As a result, three-color printing became aesthetically and economically feasible in mass printed media, and the artists’ color theory was adapted to primary colors most effective
    in inks or photographic dyes: cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY).

  • In reality, only imaginary “primary colors” used in colorimetry can “mix” or quantify all visible (perceptually possible) colors; but to do this, these imaginary primaries
    are defined as lying outside the range of visible colors; i.e., they cannot be seen.

  • Split primary system[edit] In painting and other visual arts, two-dimensional color wheels or three-dimensional color solids are used as tools to teach beginners the essential
    relationships between colors.

  • A wider range of colors can be obtained with the addition of other colors to the printing process, such as in Pantone’s Hexachrome printing ink system (six colors), among

  • Some theorists and artists believe juxtapositions of complementary color will produce strong contrast, a sense of visual tension as well as “color harmony”; while others believe
    juxtapositions of analogous colors will elicit a positive aesthetic response.

  • Another reason the correct primary colors were not used by early artists is they were not available as durable pigments.

  • It is common among some painters to darken a paint color by adding black paint—producing colors called shades—or lighten a color by adding white—producing colors called tints.

  • [9] In addition, given that humans can perceive over 2.8 million different colors,[10] it has been suggested that the number of possible color combinations is virtually infinite
    thereby implying that predictive color harmony formulae are fundamentally unsound.

  • However, it is not always the best way for representational painting, as an unfortunate result is for colors to also shift in hue.

  • In practice, however, many of the mixtures produced from these colors lack chromatic intensity.

  • Munsell’s 1905 color system represents colors using three color-making attributes, value (lightness), chroma, and hue.

  • It is even possible to mix very low concentrations of the blue mentioned and the chromium red to get a greenish color.

  • Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors of the RYB color model According to traditional color theory based on subtractive primary colors and the RYB color model, yellow mixed
    with purple, orange mixed with blue, or red mixed with green produces an equivalent gray and are the painter’s complementary colors.

  • In the visual arts, color theory is the body of practical guidance for color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination.

  • These biases are thought to result in mixtures that contain sets of complementary colors, darkening the resulting color.

  • [11] Despite this, many color theorists have devised formulae, principles or guidelines for color combination with the aim being to predict or specify positive aesthetic response
    or “color harmony”.

  • They also arise from the attempt to describe the highly contextual and flexible behavior of color perception in terms of abstract color sensations that can be generated equivalently
    by any visual media.

  • In addition, context always has an influence on responses about color and the notion of color harmony, and this concept is also influenced by temporal factors (such as changing
    trends) and perceptual factors (such as simultaneous contrast) which may impinge on human response to color.

  • This discrepancy becomes important when color theory is applied across media.

  • For example, they may add a scarlet, purple and/or green paint to expand the mixable gamut; and they include one or more dark colors (especially “earth” colors such as yellow
    ochre or burnt sienna) simply because they are convenient to have premixed.


Works Cited

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“Color Harmony”. Color Research and Application, 27 (1), pp. 28–31.
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Garau, Augusto (1993). Color Harmonies. University of Chicago press. p. 7. ISBN 0226281965.
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Gonna Die. Elsevier, Focal Press. ISBN 0-240-80688-3.
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Albers, Josef (2006). Interaction of Color. Revised and Expanded Edition. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-11595-4.
Photo credit:’]